​​Back to the Beach​​​
Patrons stroll along the boardwalk in Long Beach, New York, at sunset

Less than one year after Superstorm Sandy, some of the East Coast’s
best boardwalk towns are open again and ready for business

he peak of summer is approaching, and vacationers will soon make their way to the beach to escape the heat and haze. But this year is different: Thousands of Americans heading to their favorite coastal areas, such as Long Beach, New York, and New Jersey’s Ocean County, still don’t know what to expect after Superstorm Sandy’s destruction this past October. We all remember the images of splintered boardwalks and deserted main streets, but things have vastly improved since then. And with the annual National Clean Beaches Week taking place from July 1 through July 7, 2013, there is much to celebrate about these waterside sanctuaries.

People assess the damage in Long Beach on October 31, 2012, the morning after Superstorm Sandy 
A house that floated off its foundation ended up in a bay off the coast of Seaside Heights, New Jersey 
Destroyed amusement park rides at Funtown Pier in Seaside Heights lie in the sand on November 16, 2012, two weeks after Sandy  
On February 19, 2013, months after Sandy swept up the Atlantic Coast, the Star Jet roller coaster remains in the water off Seaside Heights 
 
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On October 29, 2012, Sandy made landfall on the United States’ Atlantic Coast, bringing with it 13-foot storm surges and tropical storm–force winds that flattened dunes and seawalls, caused major flooding and left more than 8 million people without power. The total cost of the damage in the United States was approximately $50 billion, but the storm’s small-scale impact has proved impossible to price. “The amount of debris that flooded the streets after Sandy is really indescribable,” says Sean Hollett, a Long Beach resident. “The beach itself was hit really hard, with erosion like I’ve never seen.”

Recovery and redevelopment started as soon as the rain and wind stopped. Guy Talarico, a student at Saint Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia, helped to organize a team of volunteers to visit Manahawkin, New Jersey, an unincorporated area in the state’s famed Ocean County, within days of the storm. Upon arrival at the local community center, Talarico and hundreds of others were assigned to walk certain streets, asking residents door to door what help they needed. “We approached one house that was demolished beyond repair. The man who lived there asked us to leave and help others,” Talarico says. “He knew there were so many neighbors who needed us more, but it was hard to imagine that it could be any worse.”

“We can make sure people don’t forget the Jersey Shore and what
they went through,” says McLeod.

After the storm-ruined houses and commercial buildings were razed, rebuilding began. And although businesses and housing were priorities, restoring the beaches was imperative not only for municipal economic health but also for these communities’ sense of pride in the face of misfortune. Once seawalls were built, roadbeds repaired and amusement parks and restaurants renovated, ritual maintenance of the beaches started—a welcome return to normalcy not felt in months.

 
 
 
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The construction of new beachfront boardwalks began almost immediately following Sandy, a testament to the importance of the structures to each town's spirit and economy
 

he Clean Beaches Coalition was founded in 1999 to provide a network for beach communities around the country and a set of standards by which those communities can be judged on cleanliness, safety, attractiveness and environmental concern. Coalition cofounder Walter McLeod launched National Clean Beaches Week in 2005 to draw attention to these initiatives. “Our job is to create a sense of camaraderie between beach managers and beachgoers,” he says. “But what we’re doing now is raising public awareness. We can make sure people don’t forget the Jersey Shore and what they went through.” The week of beach activism helps to shine a light on the nation’s vast acreage of public beaches and those who maintain it. National Clean Beaches Week also includes the organization of volunteer-driven cleanup teams, educational tours for children and activities focusing on good beach citizenship. This year’s events could not feel timelier.

 
 
 
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Images of Seaside Heights (first photo) and Long Beach taken before Sandy depict a vibrant coastal community and beautiful natural waterways, respectively, yet also show the areas' vulnerability to natural disasters
 

Beginning this summer, Sandy-affected beach towns like Long Beach, Manahawkin and Seaside Heights, New Jersey, stand a chance to rebound fully from the storm’s effects, provided the crowds arrive. “The off-season was especially slow,” says Long Beach resident Hollett. “Locals couldn’t return to their homes for weeks or months after [Sandy]. As of early May, there were still many empty homes. This year, it is going to be more crucial than ever to keep people coming back.” The boardwalks have been built again, and the shop doors are open. Now all that is needed is the patronage of beach-loving visitors and those who call these beaches their home.

 

JANE FULLER is a writer based in Dallas.

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